beautiful carelessly sultry

[l1]S[/l1]ongwriter friend Charlie Cheney keeps telling me that song lyrics should lean heavily on nouns. Show, don’t tell. Pack the song with people doing things in places with stuff, instead of talking about feelings and interior monologues and all those abstracts.

A handful of years ago, Charlie and a group of friends wrote a song which was nothing but nouns. It didn’t make much sense, but it sure had nouns.

Continue reading “beautiful carelessly sultry”

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? (8)

[l1]A[/l1]nother lazy post based on searches, and my best guess at what you were looking for.

In no particular order:

  • “dido my love is gone” – still one of my favorite songs; here you go
  • “another carsong” – I’m writing one; does that count?
  • “doesn t mean i don t love you” – oh, good
  • “i changed the lock on my front door” – Lucinda Williams’ song with no chorus
  • “imogen heap” – ah; I’ll have to borrow rush’s CD and write about this amazing performer
  • “kid” – my least favorite Pretenders song. For some reason, one of their most popular. Must be me.
  • “parting glass” – a lifelong favorite from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, featured in “Waking Ned Divine
  • “squirrel nut zippers evening at lafitte s” – great jazz, featuring the luscious voice of Kathleen Whalen. Possibly a unique album.
  • “te hoe poti i tahiti” – I am at a total loss; I know no Tahitian music whatsoever, except for the collaboration between Chet Atkins and Mark Kopfler (on ‘Neck and Neck’) playing ‘Tahitian Skies

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

[l1]W[/l1]oke up this morning to the strangest sound; like living next to a major freeway, but more of a rumble. It woke me up, starting suddenly and rolling and rumbling like distant thunder. After a couple minutes, I got up to look out into the dark to see if I could make out what it was. The closest freeway is a mile away, and not busy at night. I couldn’t see anything that looked like a sudden LA-sized influx of traffic.

Suddenly it hit me. One of the joys of living on the north side of Sacramento is that most of these small towns were built around the railroads. I was hearing a sound I hadn’t heard like this in years—a passing freight train.

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to spend some time each summer with our grandmother. One of her houses (she seems to have moved more than most grandmothers) was right across a narrow street from railroad tracks. I remember that when we’d first arrive, each passing train would awaken me as it growled past. But by the second night, it was just a comforting background sound like the ticking and quailing and cuckooing of the huge German clock in the hallway.

Trains seem to inspire musical feelings; I know they do in me. I started making a list of train songs, and I hope to come back and spend a bit of time riding each one. For now, I’ll just spit out a stream-of-consciousness blurb for each. Let me know if you have any favorites, or if there are some I’ve missed.

[az]B0000CBLA8[/az]If Love Was A Train Michelle Shocked
Why Michelle ‘Shocked’ Johnston didn’t become a major star is beyond me. Brother Max (The Gourds) is benefitting from the same near-anonimity. Guess it’s better than watching ZZ Top go from serious blues influence to slithery pop gunk.

[az]B000000XCF[/az]Midnight Special Credence Clearwater Revival
My dad bought ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’ because it had this tune and ‘Cotton Fields.’ Since his death, I hadn’t heard the album until I got it again two weeks ago. It’s hard to laugh with joy and cry in pain at the same time.

[az]B000002IST[/az]Driving the Last Spike Genesis
Phil Collins accidently lets us get another glimpse of genious. Phil, Phil, Phil; come back to us and leave the trivial pop nonsense. This deserves a movie to be made of it. Collins actually did research before writing the song.

[az]B000001AYK[/az]Canadian Railroad Trilogy Gordon Lightfoot
Gord knows how good this is; it shows up on more of his albums than any other tune I can think of. I know Lightfoot haters who say, “But that railroad song; I can listen to that.” I want to go to Canada and ride the railroads for as long as my money lasts.

[az]B000001AYK[/az]Steel Rail Blues Gordon Lightfoot
Yeah, Canadians get trains better than USicans do. From his first album, it’s the kind of tune my Dad and his brothers would have taken to if it hadn’t been so quietly obscure.

[az]B005EVTBSM[/az][az]B00116GDBW[/az]Honky Tonk Train Time Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis
This one shows up in two different arrangements on the Smithsonian Jazz Collection; once on the piano set, once on the band set. (If you know someone who has these CDs, I’ll take out a bank loan to buy them. Call me; write me; send up smoke signals. I want these classics.) Kieth Emerson covered it as well. It rolls.

[az]B000001FX3[/az]Hellbound Train Savoy Brown
How sad it was to see Foghat live in ’98. Right up until the nostalgic bit in the middle where ‘Lonesome’ Dave Peverett took the lead guitar and did some Savoy Brown. No, they didn’t do “Doin’ Right” or any of the great stuff from “Hellbound Train” but they did justice to “It Hurts Me Too.” Buy “Hellbound Train”, but don’t listen to the title track. Some clown decided the re-issue should have a fade-out ending instead of the jarring vaporisation of the original. So, buy the “Savoy Brown Collection” as well; you’ll get the original unbastardized version of “Hellbound Train” plus more rockin’ blues than you can shake a pick at.

Aww. Just took a look for some info, and found out Lonesome Dave died from complications of kidney cancer in February of 2000. What a huge loss to blues.

[az]B00009P1O5[/az]Southern Pacific (Neil Young)
Neil’s ‘re*ac*tor’ is one of his very best albums. Huge crunchy tunes which repeat the fact that he invented grunge and is still its master; goofball stuff like “Get Back On It” and “Motor City”:

My army jeep is still alive
Got locking hubs and four wheel drive
Ain’t got no radio
Ain’t got no mag wheels
Ain’t got no digital clock
(ain’t got no clo-o-o-o-o-o-ck)

and ending with the driving, gut-wrenching “Shots.” No one, no one, rocks like Neil Young.

Oh, and how ’bout the track I stole this title from, or Harry Nilsson’s “Nobody Loves the Railroads Anymore”?

Man there’s a lot of train songs. Maybe I’ll start a whole new site.

Darktown Strutters’ Ball

[l1]I[/l1]Darktown Strutters' Ball‘m sure the title isn’t politically correct, but in 1917, no one seemed to notice. It is claimed that this was the first jazz tune recorded, on this date in that year. The song is 86 this year; I’m half that. It’s still a favorite. It was the first song I learned on the banjo; not a 5-string bluegrass affair, but an old 4-string tenor banjo, designed for playing with a jazz band. I’m still looking for the band, but when I find ’em, I’ve got the banjo.

Written by Shelton Brooks, the complete sheet music of the original release is available online at the University of Colorado’s Digital Sheet Music Collection. Alan Lomax recorded Jelly Roll Morton playing this along with a couple dozen other tunes in 1938 in a classic collection of original jazz.

Link Death

[l1]L[/l1]ink rot is a web phenomenon whereby links from one site to others begin to fail over time due to changes in the target sites.

I’m about to introduce link assassination. Since I have to remove all my CDNow links, but haven’t had time to get all the links, I’m going to just kill them until I have the time.

So, if you read back through older articles (anything prior to the first of December) the links are about to unceremoniously cease to function. I’ll do what I can to get them replaced quickly. In the meantime, you can find everything you need at, which is where we’ll be buying our music from now on, right?

Riverwalk Special: Rhythm on the River

[l1]J[/l1]ennifer Jensen, Promotion Manager at Riverwalk Jazz, sends notice of a special upcoming show. “Rhythm on the River: A Look Back at 40 Years with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band” will be broadcast the week of November 14, 2002.

From the Riverwalk website:

“Forty years ago, when most young people in America were fascinated with rock and roll, a young college student in San Antonio launched a professional jazz band in a classic style. This week on Riverwalk Jazz, friends and fans across the country honor Jim Cullum and the Jazz Band he founded with his father in 1962. We’ll dip into the archives of our radio show for favorite live performances, and salute the fine musicians who’ve performed in the band through the years.”

I highly recommend the show in general, and this sounds like it’s going to be a very special edition.

Don’t Miss the ‘Jazz Me News’

I’ve listed “Riverwalk” on my links page since Know Your Music’s inception. If you love music, and enjoy learning about the music and the people who made it, “Live from the Landing” is an absolute must. The detailed and personal background to the music, as provided by host David Holt and a remarkable array of guests, gives insight not possible from just listening to a CD you bought in town.[l1]T[/l1]his just in: courtesy of “Riverwalk, Live from the Landing” – their fun and fact-filled ‘Jazz Me News’ archives are indeed available online. I’ve been enjoying it for some time without giving a thought to passing it along. I’m sure I’ll find a suitable way to do penance, but in the meantime, dig into some meaty and entertaining info, written from the vantage point of the Jim Cullum’s historic “Landing” in San Antonio Texas, origin of their not-to-be-missed weekly broadcasts.

Sign up for the newsletter, and while you wait for next month’s catch up on the past issues. If you missed the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee in May, they’ve do a nice review every year.

At next year’s Jazz Jubilee, expect to see me in Jim Cullum’s shadow, soaking up all the jazz I can.

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night

[l1]A[/l1] long, long time ago, there was a singer named Harry. He was never very popular; even though he recorded over two dozen albums, almost entirely his own compositions, and although his few hits are ubiquitous in modern music, his name still draws blank stares.

SchmilssonIn an interview in the late sixties, John Lennon and Paul McCartney named Harry Nilsson as their favorite American singer. With a nearly four-octave range, an obvious passion for music (his own or someone else’s) and a natural wit, Harry was a marvelous performer. Even those who don’t know his name recognize songs like “Everybody’s Talkin’“, “Without You“, “The PointMe and My Arrow” from his wonderful children’s story “The Point”, and “Coconut.”

What Harry is not famous for is my favorite album, bar none. Never one to pander to anyone else’s taste, in 1973 Harry teamed up with the great Gordon Jenkins, composer and arranger for Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and others. Harry chose Jenkins to arrange and conduct an album of standards (and not-so-standards) and in the process, made them his own.

Harry often joked with his last name in his album titles: “Schmilsson”, “Son of Schmilsson”, and finally, “SchmilssonA Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night“, today’s feature.

I’ve owned this album since shortly after it was released, and I’m quite certain a week has not gone by when I haven’t listened to it. After more than a thousand auditions, certain passages still make me catch my breath; certain segues still make me stop what I’m doing to absorb the subtlety; certain lyrical phrasings still make me marvel at Harry’s intuitive grasp of how language and music can be one. We occasionally give it as a special gift. It’s just part of our lives and I can’t imagine anything less.

Jenkins shows why he was sought after from the thirties to the sixties with his arrangements. No tune stands on its own; instead, the orchestration of each piece flows into the next. The album opens with the first three lines of the closing tune, then sweeps into an orchestral section before settling into the first tune.

As Time Goes ByThese orchestral connections make frequent reference to “Over the Rainbow” which doesn’t appear on the album. I wondered about that for years, until I recently discovered the 1996 album “As Time Goes By: The Complete Schmilsson in the Night.” I completely missed 1988’s “A Touch More Schmilsson in the Night”, but I’m glad to see the lost tunes from those sessions come to light. I’ll definitely have something to say about the other tunes once I’ve had a chance to fully absorb them.

  • Lazy Moon – After the nod to “As Time Goes By” and a sweeping orchestral bit, Harry sings accompanied only by the slow strumming of a quiet guitar, and a few strings. The only other known recording of this tune was by Oliver Hardy, possibly in the movie “Pardon Us.” Composed in 1901 by the innovative team of Bob Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson, Harry turns this vaudeville tune into a gentle but humorous love song. Witty lyrics and a simple melody make it easy to picture Ollie singing it, too.
  • For Me And My Gal – Written for the 1942 movie of the same name, it’s been covered by nearly everyone at one time or another. A memory of simpler times.
  • It Had To Be You – Lyrics composed in 1924 by the great Gus Kahn to an Isham Jones melody, this one receives special treatment by Harry and Gordon – slightly adjusted lyrics for the last two lines:

     But with all your faults, it's you I adore, When you stand up, your hands touch the floor, It had to be me, unlucky me, it had to be me!

    Okay, it’s not that funny, but coming unannounced this far into an album of serious and romantic tunes, it sure caught me off guard the first time I heard it.

  • Always – The shortest track on the album; composed by the amazing Irving Berlin. A short sweet statement of love.
  • Makin’ Whoopee! – No, this was written for a 1928 musical,so perhaps it’s not exactly what you think. It is a humorous Gus Kahn/Walter Donaldson collaboration about the, um, joys of hasty marriage. Gordon Jenkins puts more than the usual effort into the score. Later assassinated by Dr. John and Ricky Lee Jones on the “Sleepless in Seattle” soundtrack. All the more reason to listen to Harry’s version.
  • You Made Me Love You – Jolson, Crosby, Armstrong, Garland, Cole, all had a crack at it. It remains intact. Harry’s is subtler, more sensitive.
  • Lullaby In Ragtime – My favorite. Written by the phenomenal Silvia Fine for her husband Danny Kaye, Harry and Gordon slow it down and really make a lullaby out of it. Fine’s lyrics are always spectacular. Harry does them justice. Again accompanied primarily by guitar, but a quiet acoustic guitar reminiscent of the twenties, not the sixties.
  • I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now – Once again, recorded by everybody and his brother (and a few cousins) – Como, Crosby, Charles, Kaye, Martin; Harry makes it bittersweet. The emotional power of his voice is most evident here.
  • What’ll I Do? – Another tune by Irving Berlin, one of only two composers featured twice. Written in 1924, a smoky melody noir which Harry makes no attempt to cheer up. Subtle and beautiful.
  • Nevertheless – The songwriting team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby was the subject of the 1950 movie “Three Little Words”, named for one of their most popular tunes. Starring Fred Astaire and Red Skelton, the film has the distinction of being choreographed by Astaire and Hermes Pan, with musical direction by Andre Previn. “Nevertheless” is typical Tin Pan Alley schmaltz, but as usual, in Harry’s hands (or throat) it transcends its origins and becomes a lovely tune.
  • This Is All I Ask – Written by Harry’s arranger and conductor on the album, Gordon Jenkins, this is one of the most complex tunes present. Only ten years old at the time Harry recorded it, it sounds much, much older. John Gary did it nicely when it was newer, but as usual, Harry finds a few notes that no one else seemed to notice. Slow and subtle, it is the perfect lead into the final piece.
  • As Time Goes By – What CasablancaBogart really said was “Play it Sam, If she can take it, so can I.” So Sam plays it – “As Time Goes By.” Written by the otherwise anonymous Herman Hupfield, it is the lyrical epitome of the timelessness of true love. It’s just a bit odd that it plays such a pivotal role in a movie whose theme is that some things are more important than love. Harry and Gordon arrange it perfectly; the phrasing, the dynamics, the well-placed silences; it really is one of the finest recordings I’ve ever heard.

Harry died in at the age of 53 in 1994. In my opinion, that was a hundred years too soon.

Perennial Favorites, Indeed – Squirrel Nut Zippers

[l1]N[/l1]ot to be confused with the candy of the same name, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are probably even nuttier. If you like jazz or just appreciate fine musicianship, you’ll enjoy their third album, “Perennial Favorites.” As with many avant garde bands, they can be a little uneven or hard to understand at times, but for the most part, the album delivers on its ambitious title. As a general rule, the lyrics are just as important as the music, so pay close attention.

  • [az]B000009PNN[/az]”Suits are Picking Up the Bill” – Who wouldn’t love to tag along on somebody else’s spending spree? From the first cheerful grunts of Ken Mosher’s baritone sax and Andrew Bird’s scratchy scraping fiddle, it’s just plain silly, and just plain fun. Fun, with a very tight, snappy horn section featuring Je Widenhouse on cornet, and Kathleen Whalen’s well-handled tenor banjo. Jim Mathus is a great jazz singer, expanding (or maybe ignoring) the boundaries of normal pop melodies for his vocal line.
  • “Low Down Man” – Slow, sad, torch song. Kathleen Whalen . . . brrrrrrrr; what a voice. I can just hear Patsy Cline covering this . . .
  • “Ghost of Stephen Foster” – Makes me dance. No, really. It does. Klezmer is such joyous music. So full of bizarre images I just can’t keep up with them all. “If we were made of cellophane we’d all get stinking drunk much faster.” Fit that line into your average pop tune. For that matter, feature any portion of ‘Camptown Ladies’ in any tune. The kids and I have a contest to see who can hear the first clang of the bell, as the piano of “Low Down Man” fades.
  • “Pallin’ with Al” – Suddenly, the Squirrels are almost traditional. Great swing tune. So much fun; love the guitar, but the fiddle’s never far behind. “Alright, go tell Al you love him!”
  • “Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter” – I can’t help but picture Peggy Lee singing “He’s A Tramp”, but I just prefer Kathleen Whalen. Machine gun drumming, flying acoustic bass, tight snappy rhythym.
  • “Trou Macacq” – Brasil! Another very dancy bit, about the not-very-dancy concepts of evolution and the deterioration of the human condition. ” . . . ride the pine-box derby to the finish line . . .”
  • “My Drag” – If Bessie Smith had been born in Czechoslovakia, she would have recorded this. Once again, what should sound bizarre is instead stimulating and evocative.
  • “Soon” – This is far enough out there that it makes “My Drag” seem normal. Give it a few listens; it grows on you. The lyrics are especially fun —
    “I have a dream where snowflakes fall inside a painted hall . . . Hah! That don’t pay the rent! But if you draw a bow, draw the strongest, and if you use an arrow, use the longest!”

    I didn’t say they made sense, just that they were fun.

  • “Evening at Lafitte’s” – More great swing. So nice to listen to Kathleen Whalen once more. Almost traditional, except at the beginning where she sings the line about “a kind of creepy feeling is stealing over me.” I’m not sure that was intentional, if you listen to how it’s worded on the second go ’round. Beautiful. “It’s great for dancing, and romancing . . . that’s the place you and me should go if we were lovers stealing an evening at Lafitte’s.”
  • “The Kraken” – Okay, now it’s downright strange. Reminds me of Frank Zappa’s “Freak Out”, the track where everyone in the band tried to demolish all the rented percussion equipment. After 18 listens, it’s a little less strange. A little. The closing minute, though, is more lilting Kathleen, totally detached from the previous cacophony.
  • “That Fascinating Thing” – Blowsy horns, drums, and banjo; a strip tease, pure and simple. Switches to double-time in the middle. The Squirrels are still enjoying themselves. So am I.
  • “It’s Over” – Really really really strange. I just don’t get it.

W. C. Handy Walking in Memphis

[l1]T[/l1]oday was going to be Squirrel Nut Zippers, but Marc Cohn had other ideas, forcing his way into my consciousness once again.

 "Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane. Touched down in the land of the delta blues, in the middle of the pouring rain . . ."

Marc Cohn's eponymous debut'Walking in Memphis” is filled with the mental imagery and musical references that inspire and evoke. At the beginning spare and simple, building to a nearly symphonic conclusion and tossing in some Jewish gospel along the way, Marc’s piano and voice solidly lead us through. Opening with solo piano and Marc’s distinctive voice, eventually including a choir and full band, in the end winding back down to Marc’s voice and the beautiful piano theme that characterizes the tune.

Sounding terribly autobiographical, the tune is about travelling to the home of so much of American traditional music. Homage is paid to W. C. Handy, the late Muriel (pianist at the Hollywood Cafe), Elvis, and Beale Street itself.

An astute reader, Sam, raised an question not answered here, so it’s answered elsewhere.

(More recently, Cohn has touched me with his song “Lost You in the Canyon.” It vividly reminds me of lost relationships, and some that never were.)

W. C. Handy is credited with writing, in 1910, the first American blues tune, “The Memphis Blues” which, due to publishing difficulties, was not released until 1912. The Handy tune I love most is his “St. Louis Blues”, especially Bessie Smith, 1924-1925Bessie Smith‘s version. The quintessential blues voice, drawling, swooping, climbing up to find one note, then sliding down for the next, is backed by one of the most passionate performances I’ve ever heard Louis Armstrong give. The only other instrument on the recording is Fred Longshaw’s harmonium (think ‘table-top accordion’) but somehow, it achieves a full-throttle sound you’d expect from a full jazz band.

As someone wrote to me recently, “Jazz does so many creatively unique things with its wonderfully rich chord progressions and improvisatory nature. Classical music does, too, but in a much more structured way. Jazz encourages improvising, wants it, demands it. If you examine Jazz, it has its rules, too, but the rules just lay the foundation, then off ya go.” In my opinion, that’s the very definition of jazz, and one of the reasons it has become the music about which I am most passionate. As an anal-retentive mathematician/computer geek, it forces me to think and feel beyond what is simple and obvious. Music should stretch your soul. Jazz stretches mine.